A talented cast and unique cinematography create an ambitious impressionistic coming of age story
Moving between rap songs and a violin-heavy score, Nicolas Britell (Free State of Jones) perfectly show how the main character feels growing up; His struggle between being himself or being what people want him to be. Berry Jenkins’ second film is a thing of beauty and power, unveiling like a sad personal poem to humanity. Moonlight is everything Boyhood was not.
Following the life stages of Chiron, dubbed as Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Saunders) and Black (Trevante Rhodes), the film takes us on a journey through what it is like growing up in a poor, homophobic black community. Playing out like a constant hell, Chiron gets beats up at school only to come home to his abusive drug addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris).
To escape these misfortunes, Chiron visits another healthier environment. Both Teresa (Janelle Monae) and Juan (Mashershala Ali) are Chiron’s second family. They provide help and a more liberal environment to the ones he’s been accustom to. Along the way, he cannot help to struggle with all these things and more importantly his identity.
At it’s boldest, Moonlight‘s visuals are stunning. The impressionism embedding in the cinematography offers a dazzling look into the life of a misunderstood young man. The shots are ambitious and unique while still adding emotions. A blend of blues, purples, and fuchsias perfectly capture the colors of the moonlight while still symbolizing the struggles of drug abuse and poverty. Scenes in which Paula’s bedroom flashes of fuchsia colors before she enters to use drugs are powerful ones and are exactly how Moonlight tells its story.
As Chiron grows up, the characters surrounding him, age as well. Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) uses physical change to tell the characters’ story. When we see Chiron’s mother, her change is both sad and shocking. Without telling his audience what happened between the gaps, Jenkins brilliantly uses these physical changes as signs that time has passed.
Tributing to an already flawless film, everyone in the cast is magnificent. There are no standout performances because everyone delivers and beyond. Naomie Harris correctly portrays the drug addict mother and all three actors doing the part of Chiron are incredible. Marshershala Ali and Janelle Monae are exquisite as the very likable surrogate parents. Their performances all feel incredibly genuine and convey so much emotion.
Jenkins explores the concept of masculinity and identity with such ease. He understands the hypocrisy but also the urgency of conforming to it. Masculinity changes throughout Chiron’s life and only becomes more and more toxic. Jenkins shows just how powerful this concept is in shaping men and how hard it is to reject it.
Moonlight poses a series of questions and one of the questions that were raised to Chiron was “Who is you?” The sad truth is that the movie ends the exact same way as how our present society is – with ambiguity. That final note is both terrible and perfect transcending to your own experience. So, I ask you again, “Who is you?”